Mary Chapin Carpenter had released 7 albums spanning 17 years by the time ‘Between Here and Gone’ was released in 2004. Over that time Carpenter had evolved out of the initial country label attached to her earliest albums into someone that the music industry, and American radio in particular, had found difficult to define. Her music was very much her own and the impression was always that any singles success she had over the years had been incidental rather than planned.
‘Between Here and Gone’ was to be Carpenter’s final album for a major label (Columbia) and the first of a number of albums Mary Chapin was to produce alongside Matt Rollings. The reviews of the time saw the album as the label’s push to address her declining commercial fortunes. The fact that the album peaked at number 50 in the US and at 92 in the UK and with neither of the singles ‘What Would You Say To Me’ / ‘Beautiful Racket’ charting would suggest that the attempt, on the face of it, failed.
But, as with much of Mary Chapin’s subsequent work, this was an irrelevance. As one review of the time mused “One has to wonder if the radio industry is brave enough to deal with the complex yet nearly universal emotions Carpenter explores in these gorgeous songs.” Other labels attached to the album cited it as sombre, sophisticated, introspective, a serious album for grown-ups.
The title track is a beautifully realised song that honours the memory of American folk singer Dave Carter. ‘Goodnight America’ has the protagonist as a stranger in various US cities, loneliness at its core. A theme that is repeated in Carpenter’s take on 9/11 as our dust covered worker insists he is not a hero, just a working man amongst the sea of the faces of the missing on the walls of ‘Grand Central Station’. Even the songs of hope and happiness, ‘River’ and ‘Elysium’, songs that celebrate Mary Chapin’s 2002 marriage, are tempered in hindsight by her subsequent divorce eight years later.
‘Between Here and Gone’ may not have had the commercial success of her earlier work but, if she hadn’t already done so, it moved Mary Chapin Carpenter firmly out of her country roots and into the welcoming arms of americana. It is a superb album that perfectly showcases her sublime vocals and confirms her as one of the best songwriters of her generation.
Wonderful review, spot on for the value of MCC as a major artist. Weirdly (for me) I’ve listened to this record three times in the past week, going to listen again having read your words